Jan. 21, 2007
Kalamazoo, Mich. – If you are fan of good old-time defensive hockey, then Western Michigan’s Lawson Arena was the place to be on Saturday night. In fact, in this game, that had the Irish looking to bounce back from a Friday loss, Notre Dame’s defense created much of its’ offense.
Goals by defensemen Tom Sawatske and Brett Blatchford and an insurance tally from Erik Condra along with the stellar goaltending of Hobey Baker candidate David Brown gave Notre Dame a 3-0 win over the Western Michigan Broncos. Brown made 25 saves in getting his third shutout of the season and the ninth of his Notre Dame career.
The win improved Notre Dame to 20-5-1 on the season and 14-3-1 in CCHA play and puts the Irish three points ahead of second-place Miami with a game in hand. The RedHawks play at home on Sunday afternoon against Ohio State.
Head coach Jeff Jackson was pleased with his team’s effort. “I thought we played with a better sense of urgency tonight. We were prepared for last night’s (Friday) game, I just don’t think we were prepared for Western to come at us the way they did,” said Jackson.
Defense was the name of the game early in this one as neither team managed to score in the opening period. Brown made nine saves for Notre Dame while Daniel Bellissimo stopped all 10 Irish shots he faced.
Notre Dame finally broke through at 7:21 of the middle stanza with a goal from an unlikely source as Sawatske came late from his right defense spot and buried a wrist shot behind Bellissimo from the right face-off dot for his third goal of the season.
T.J. Jindra made the play as he burst down the left wing and got around the Western Michigan defense. He spotted Sawatske racing in and put the puck on his stick and the senior defensemen did the rest, giving the Irish the 1-0 lead.
The score would stay that way as Brown and Notre Dame’s defense nursed the lead.
Just 40 seconds into the final period the senior goaltender had to be at his best as Mark Letestu, the Broncos’ leading scorer found himself all alone in front with the puck on his stick. Brown was there to turn aside the scoring bid that would have tied the game. The stop helped give the Irish some momentum.
“I saw him coming, but I didn’t think they would be able to get the puck to him,” said Brown. “It was a good save to start the period and it gave us some momentum. A save like that helps me get into it right away.”
The game stayed at 1-0 until the 12:42 mark when the Irish defense struck again. This time it was Blatchford who unleashed a rocket from the left point that found its way past Bellissimo on the short side for his second goal of the year.
The Irish offense finally joined in at 14:29 when Condra closed the scoring with his 11th of the season.
For much of the game, Condra and his highly successful linemates, Ryan Thang and Kevin Deeth had been separated as Jackson and his assistants looked for more scoring, but late in the game, the trio was back together and it resulted in a goal as Condra took a pass from Thang and carried down the left side. His shot from the left circle beat Bellissimo between the pads to give the Irish the 3-0 lead.
“We broke them up to create some more offensive depth and we got some production from some other guys,” explained Jackson. “It’s a matter of match ups. I learned a little lesson from Scotty Bowman a number of years ago. When a team matches so intensely on the road and you can’t get away from the match ups, you have to do some things to make them change.”
Brown and the Irish defense did the rest. “Our defense has been awesome all season and tonight was no different,” said Brown following the game. “We have a really good group back there battling for me every night. They are in the trenches, working the front of the net, clearing pucks, battling with guys in front to let me see. They were awesome.”
On the night, the Irish out shot Western Michigan, 26-25. Bellissimo finished with 23 saves in the game. Notre Dame was 0-for-6 on the power play while the Broncos were 0-for-7. Irish penalty killers were perfect on the weekend, killing all 11 Western power play chances.
“I really thought that tonight’s game was as close to a playoff game as you are going to get this time of the year,” said Jackson. “I thought it was intense from the bench perspective. Both teams were doing every thing to block shots. Both goalies played hard. It was a really gritty, tough game to play in. Both teams were a little tired as the game progressed. It got slow and methodical, but both teams battled hard all night.”
The Irish will get a real taste of playoff hockey next weekend when they return home to face the Miami RedHawks in a big weekend series at the Joyce Center on Jan. 26-27. Miami is currently in second place in the CCHA. Friday’s game will start at 7:35 p.m. while Saturday’s game has a 7:05 p.m. starting time.
** The Irish reached the 20-win plateau for just the second time since returning to the CCHA in 1992-93. The last time was 2003-04 when Notre Dame was 20-15-4 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the only time in the program’s history. In 17 seasons in the CCHA (including 1981-83), the Irish have won 20 or more games just three times. In 1981-82, the Irish were 23-15-2.
** Through the first nine weekends of the CCHA schedule, the Irish have lost the opening game just once – on Friday versus Western Michigan and are now 8-1-0 in first games and 6-2-1 in the second game of the series.
** David Brown’s 19 wins are the third-best single-season total at Notre Dame. Only Mark Kronholm (20 in 1972-73) and Lance Madson (24 in 1987-88) have won more in a single year.
GAME SUMMARY 1 2 3 - F#3/#3 Notre Dame (20-5-1/14-3-1) 0 1 2 - 3Western Michigan (9-13-1/8-10-1) 0 0 0 - 0
First Period: No Scoring.
Penalties: ND: 2 for 4 minutes; WMU: 3 for 6 minutes.
Second Period: ND: Tom Sawatske 3(T.J. Jindra), 7:21.
Penalties: ND: 4 for 8 minutes; WMU: 3 for 6 minutes.
Penalties: ND: 2 for 4 minutes; WMU: 2 for 12 minutes.
Shots On Goal:Notre Dame 10 - 7 - 9 - 26Western Michigan 9 - 8 - 8 - 25
Goaltender Saves:ND - David Brown (60:00) 9 - 8 - 8 - 25WMU - Daniel Bellissimo (60:00) 10 - 6 - 7 - 23
Power Plays:ND: 0 for 6WMU: 0 for 7